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Witness to wealth of war history dies

A witness to some of World War II's great battles and generals, Lawrence Washington died on Christmas Day.

By MATTHEW WAITE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 5, 2003


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Lawrence Washington's life as a fighting man during World War II often took him close -- sometimes too close -- to history as it happened.

Early in the war, as Mr. Washington fought with the fabled Third Army across France, he narrowly escaped German artillery several times, once running down the bottom stairs of a tall tower while the top of the stairs were exploding.

By the end of the war, Mr. Washington was a staff officer with an infantry division, and had dinner with the Third Army's famous general -- George S. Patton -- the night before the car accident that would claim the general's life in December 1945.

After a life of government service and a short illness, Mr. Washington died Christmas Day (Dec. 25, 2002). He was 92.

Mr. Washington spent his years after the war working for the Internal Revenue Service in Kansas City. He retired after 42 years with the IRS and moved to New Port Richey in 1986. He is survived by his wife, Lillian, and his son, William.

William Washington heard many of his father's tales about World War II while growing up in Kansas City. His father was one of only a handful men who graduated together from officer's school to survive the war.

"He was in a lot of situations that were pretty hazardous," William Washington said. "He could have ended up dead several times."

Working as a forward artillery spotter, Lawrence Washington decided to crawl up to the top of a tower to guide explosive rounds onto a German encampment. Mr. Washington later told his son that the Germans didn't like being shelled much, so they went looking for the place a spotter would hide to drop such an accurate barrage. They found Mr. Washington's hiding place and began shelling it.

As the upper floors exploded, Mr. Washington ran out the bottom of the tower.

Later in the war, Mr. Washington took up residence in a tall building for the night, forced to sleep in the upper floors because he got to camp late. During the night, the Germans opened fire, and one artillery round went through the roof and the next three floors before exploding.

Mr. Washington and his Jeep driver survived, the men below didn't.

"You get quirks of fate like that in combat," William Washington said.

For his service, Lawrence Washington was given the Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts, a Croix de Guerre medal from the French and Belgian governments, a Metz Medal of Liberation from the French and a Presidential Citation. He retired from the Army as a captain.

"He had a sense of survival," William Washington said of his father. "Of where to be and where not to be."

Mr. Washington stayed in Germany after the war, helping with the reconstruction of Europe and witnessing some of the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders.

Mr. Washington had worked for the IRS before he left for war and went back after he returned. William Washington said his father was healthy for a 92-year-old until he fell ill late last year.

"We thought he was going to make it to 100," William Washington said. "He had a good, full life."

-- Matthew Waite can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6247 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6247. His e-mail address is waite@sptimes.com .

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